Former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina died Monday at 66. Hagan, a Democrat, served one term in the U.S. Senate, from 2009-2015.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper confirmed Hagan's death, saying he'd known her since they both served in the General Assembly.
"Kay was a fierce advocate for North Carolina, and she represented our state with courage and grace her entire career," Cooper said in a statement. "She made it a mission to inspire young people - especially young girls - to enter public service, and she served as a role model to so many. North Carolina is mourning one of our best today."
Hagan contracted a tick-borne illness in 2016 that led to brain inflammation. She had difficulty speaking and walking since then, according to The Associated Press.
“We are heartbroken to share that Kay left us unexpectedly this morning,” her family said in a statement obtained by the Charlotte Observer. “Kay meant everything to us, and we were honored to share her with the people of North Carolina whom she cared for and fought for so passionately as an elected official. Most of all, we already miss her humor and spirit as the hub of our family, a role she loved more than anything. Nobody could light up a room and make people feel welcome like Kay."
Hagan beat incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008 but lost her seat to Republican Thom Tillis in 2014. She reflected on her term when speaking to supporters that election night.
"I will always be grateful for the trust you placed in me, and the chance to serve our great state. Y’all, it has been fabulous," Hagan said.
She was born in Shelby and represented a district in Guilford County in the state Senate for a decade before she went to Congress. Before launching her political career in 1998, Hagan was an executive at Bank of America predecessor NationsBank.
Condolences have been pouring in online since news of Hagan's death broke.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate, said he saw Hagan Sunday when he was campaigning in Durham.
In a statement, Biden said Hagan lived "her too-short life with incredible dignity and character, even as the days became more difficult physically."
"She was a champion for North Carolina and a fierce defender of all its citizens," Biden said. "She stood for women's rights and marriage equality, not because it was politically popular, but because it was right."
Tillis said he was "heartbroken" by Hagan's death.
"We join all North Carolinians in remembering her dedicated and distinguished record of public service to our state and nation,” he said in a statement.
Brooke and I are deeply saddened by the sudden and untimely loss of Kay Hagan. Our prayers are with her family.
North Carolina's other U.S. senator, Republican Richard Burr, also lauded Hagan.
"In our time as Senate colleagues, we worked across the aisle together frequently on issues that we both knew would determine what type of country our children would inherit, from conservation to our common sense," Burr said in a statement. "She tackled everything she did with a passion and a sense of humor that will be missed."
North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said this:
"The entire North Carolina Democratic Party family is deeply saddened to hear of Senator Hagan’s passing. Senator Hagan was a trailblazer with an incisive wit and humor who worked tirelessly every day to make life better for North Carolina women, our military communities, and families like hers. North Carolina Democrats mourn with the entire Hagan family but also celebrate the legacy Senator Hagan left behind and her dogged determination to create a better North Carolina and country."
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, the Democrat who represents most of Charlotte in Congress, called Hagan "a champion for all people."
Cooper has ordered all U.S. and North Carolina flags on state buildings to be flown at half staff through sunset Tuesday.